By Mitch Stirling
Mount Hampden, lying somewhere to the north in the wilds of Mashonaland, was the intended destination of the Pioneer Column. The eponym was in honour of John Hampden, an English gentleman-hero who lived in the days of Charles I, first used by the guide Frederick Courtney Selous. But on arrival in the area in September 1890 a more convenient spot was discovered near another prominent landmark that became known as the Salisbury kopje. Selous may not even have been present at the time, being away on a visit of goodwill to Shona Chief Mutasa. So they outspanned and hoisted the flag of the British Union on a makeshift pole. The commanding officer, Colonel Pennefather, raised three cheers and the pioneers spread out across the fertile lands of the Lomagundi and Mount Hampden regions to stake their land claims and search for gold. And so Rhodesia began, one hundred and twenty three years ago... a blink of an eye in historical times.
In years to come the young Southern Rhodesia was somewhat isolated at a time when great advancements in technology were taking place in Europe. The Great War inspired much of this rapid development, with aviation in the forefront. But it was not until 11 June 1920 that the first aircraft visited Salisbury, landing on the racecourse where the Magistrates Court stands today."The hooter at the brewery sent its voice abroad in short spasms", said the Rhodesia Herald. Late, but it was here, at last, to the delight of thousands of awaiting spectators. Imagine the excitement. It was a hugely significant moment in time when pilot Earl Rutherford of the South African Aerial Transport Company flew into the pages of history in a converted, war-surplus Avro 504K. The aircraft circled the town and landed in front of the crowded grandstand and when the pilot and two passengers, Messrs Ulyett and Thornton, disembarked they were greeted with loud shouts and cheers of approval. George Elcombe, the mayor, formally welcomed Mr Rutherford and congratulated him on behalf of the town for being the first pilot of the first aeroplane to come to Salisbury. He expressed the hope that the day was not far off when aeroplanes would be in daily use in Rhodesia.
More intrepid airmen and women began to appear in the coming years from 'beyond the blue horizon' as a new generation of flying machines became more reliable and affordable, popularized by sport-aviation in Europe. There were records to be broken too, as aviators like Lieutenant Dick Bentley, Lieutenant Pat Murdock, Lady Mary Bailey, Lady Heath and the prima aviatrix Amy Mollison (nee Johnson) joined the race to the Cape. Military machines appeared as well with Fairey Gordons and Vickers Valencia troop carriers from RAF Cairo.
|Dick Bentley in difficulty (location unknown)|
In Mashonaland, Salisbury aerodrome became the centre of it all in those early days and the flying fraternity gathered there for the first Southern Rhodesian Air Rally and Aerial Display on 15 August 1936 under the distinguished patronage of Sir Herbert Stanley GCMG, Governor of Southern Rhodesia. The president was The Honourable Godfrey Huggins, Prime Minister. Chairman was His Worship the Mayor of Salisbury, Councillor Leslie Fereday. A number of prominent citizens were on the entertainments committee including Lieut-Col Ernest Lucas Guest who was to lead by example in the stormy years ahead. Sir Digby Burnett was another committee member - general manager of London and Rhodesian Mining and Land Company (Lonrho). Lieut-Col Ellis Robins DSO was the resident director of the BSA Company and vice-chairman of Rhodesian and Nyasaland Airways (RANA). He was a great supporter of aviation as a means of conveying businessmen around central Africa and further to the south.
'Never before has Salisbury been treated to the sight of so many aeroplanes in the air at the same time' boasted the printed programme of events with its photographs of all the major players, plus some comical sketches of the day's proceedings. 20 000 spectators and 51 aeroplanes were organized and coordinated by Mr John Davidson, the resident director of the De Havilland Aircraft Company (Rhodesia) Limited.
With thanks to the McGeorge brothers who very kindly handed me the Air Rally Souvenir Programme in about 1986.
Photos from National Archives of Rhodesia and the book 'They Served Africa with Wings' by Mitch Stirling and John House.
The first of a few articles on 28 EFTS Mount Hampden and Mashonaland Flying Club... for a pictorial book in preparation to help raise funds for the Flying Club. If anyone would like to contribute photos or anecdotes please send to email@example.com for inclusion.
Thanks to Mitch for sharing these memories with ORAFs.
Comments are always welcome, please mail them to Eddy Norris at firstname.lastname@example.org
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